Facebook Will Award $75,000 to Five VR and AR Innovators

By Yisela Alvarez Trentini Saturday, October 24, 2020

Facebook is inviting university faculty to present research proposals that can help accelerate opportunities in the emerging sphere of social augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Their goal is to promote the development of more open, welcoming, and safer virtual worlds. In order to do so, the company will assign a total of five awards of up to $75,000 each.

Facebook Reality Labs has launched a call for proposals to accelerate research in social AR and VR. The initiative follows their recent launch of the invite-only beta of Facebook Horizon for US and Canadian users — a social platform where people can interact with others, play games, and create worlds in VR.

Previous research by the labs has focused mostly on 2D social online platforms and its challenges, which included online bullying and harassment, gaming addiction, and physical isolation, among others. With the rise of VR games and apps, there’s still a lack of norms for determining its responsible development and use.

Facebook Reality Labs is now working on building a computing platform that centers around people in a responsible, inclusive, and privacy-centric way. An example of this is their set of principles for Responsible Innovation, a series of tools that represent the company’s commitment to building such a world. These principles are expected to evolve as the platform seeks and receives feedback from users.

In order to accelerate the research around their innovation principle “Consider Everyone,” the call for proposals will focus on understanding how social VR experiences affect users, in particular teens. Researchers from diverse backgrounds and of diverse abilities are especially encouraged to apply.

Consider Everyone

“Consider Everyone” is Facebook Research’s third Responsible Innovation Principle. It states:

“In a world where augmented and virtual reality technology might someday be ubiquitous, it’s critical that we consider everyone who comes into contact with our products. We build products that are inclusive of our diverse community and design hardware that isn’t one-size-fits-all. Just like when the camera was invented and society established norms around when it was appropriate to take photos, we also need to consider people who aren’t using our products, such as by adding indicators when cameras are in use. We know we can’t do this alone, so we conduct user research and work with in-house and external experts.”

The call for proposals aims to help Facebook understand how social VR can contribute to social connection, interaction, and interpersonal relationships—in particular through groups and communities arising from the use of VR platforms. Some of these measures will have already emerged from existing 2D social experiences and could be applied to 3D worlds, for example, lessons on social anxiety and online harassment. The company is also interested in determining how social VR experiences can affect teens ages 13 to 18 while mitigating threats to younger users such as online harassment, addiction, and cyberbullying.

Facebook will assign a total of five awards of up to $75,000 each for proposals that can tackle these challenges in the context of social VR.

About Facebook Horizon

The awards were created in the context of Facebook’s latest launch of Horizon. Horizon is a social experience where users can explore, play games, and create virtual worlds. The platform is currently in beta and is only accessible to people with an invitation and an Oculus headset.

Horizon’s experiences include both cooperative and team-based competition challenges and has a focus on connection — exploring the possibilities of the virtual world with others. The game includes a series of drag-and-drop tools that make world creation easy, also incorporating multiplayer games and interactive experiences with visual scripting. For now, eight people can share a space, but eventually, Facebook envisions bigger worlds where people will be able to gather in larger numbers.

In order to guarantee a safe virtual experience, everyone in Horizon has to abide by the Oculus Code of Conduct, which prohibits users from harassing or bullying others or conducting themselves in an offensive or abusive way. The platform provides a Safe Zone to mute, block, and report users. Violations of the code of conduct across Facebook and Oculus products can lead to restrictions, suspensions, and the eventual deletion of an account.

About Facebook Reality Labs

Facebook Reality Labs is made up of scientists, researchers, developers, and engineers determined to build a more connected future via the use of AR and VR. The project firmly believes in VR’s potential to transform the way we play, work, communicate, and learn. The group aims to develop the technologies needed to enable a future where AR and VR are as common as smartphones. This includes breakthrough research on AR glasses, VR headsets, new optics and displays, audio, computer vision, brain-computer interfaces, haptic devices, and perception science, among others.

Application Process

The initiative was launched on September 16, 2020. The deadline for applications is October 29, 2020, at 5 p.m. anywhere on Earth (AoE). The winners will be announced on November 30, 2020.

In order to apply, candidates need to present a proposal that includes a summary of the project, a statement clarifying the scientific contributions, plans for deployment, and a draft budget description. Applicants must be full-time faculty at accredited academic institutions that provide Ph.D. research degrees. Government officials, political figures, and affiliated businesses are not eligible.

About the Author


Headshot of Yisela Alvarez Trentini

Yisela Alvarez Trentini is an Anthropologist + User Experience / Human-Computer Interaction Designer with an interest in emerging technologies, social robotics, and VR/AR.

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